U.S. may seek more data on people flying in from E.U.

Published 17 July 2009

DHS indicates that an agreement with the Spanish government on a pilot program that identifies high-risk travelers before they board aircraft bound for the United States may serve as a model for similar arrangements with other EU countries

U.S. officials may seek to expand and widen agreements that demand that airlines supply sensitive data on passengers arriving from Europe, according to a senior DHS official. The plan, if pursued, could go beyond an existing deal with the European Union that allows trans-Atlantic airlines transfer credit card, e-mail addresses, passport, travel itineraries and other data belonging to European passengers to U.S. officials.

AFP reports that Rand Beers, who heads the DHS’s protection division, said preliminary discussions had begun with the Spanish government to gauge the possibilities of a fresh pan-European deal. “Obviously one of the things that we are looking at is whether or not it might be more appropriate to have a overarching or umbrella agreement with the European Union,” Beers said.

We still have a considerable way to go in terms of the exchange of data between ourselves and our European allies.”

Beers is a key adviser to DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, whom he recently accompanied on a visit to Ireland, Britain, Portugal, and Spain. In Madrid, Napolitano formalized a pilot program that identifies high-risk travelers before they board aircraft bound for the United States. The project has stopped ten terrorist suspects in just over a year, according to DHS figures.

In Lisbon a deal was signed on exchanging biometric and biographic data, which is also seen as a possible prototype for future Europe-wide deals. Any move to transfer more information, however, is likely to be met by stiff resistance in Europe, which only narrowly passed the current agreement amid bitter opposition. Members of the European Parliament and some EU member states objected to having to provide information such as requests for kosher or halal meals, which, they argued, promoted religious profiling.

Beers defended the system, saying that it warns U.S. authorities if there are individuals preparing to enter the country that need further examination. He also indicated that future agreements could look beyond Europe. “That is another area that we are looking at,” he told AFP.